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Talkin' Aliens w/ R.W. Goodwin
Wednesday, April 01, 2009

R.W. Goodwin is the visionary producer who brought television shows like The X-Files and Tru Calling to life. His latest venture is Alien Trespass, a feature film done in the motif of a 50’s sci-fi movie (in theaters with a limited release beginning April 3rd). This week I caught up with Goodwin to discuss going back in time for the film, his initial problems with the alien monster, and the major sci-fi motion picture he was a part of that he never received credit for.

Adam Bernard: Talk to me about Alien Trespass. After so many years of producing current science-fiction what inspired you to go back to the 50’s for this project?
R.W. Goodwin: It was actually my friend Jim Swift’s idea. He and I have been friends for about six years and he was a big fan of these things as a kid. He’d gone to see em all and just felt the only thing missing was that there weren’t enough of them. He wanted to make another one, which I thought was a kind of an unusual idea, but I had seen em as a young kid, too, and had very fond memories, so I looked at them again just to refresh my memory and I was so charmed to find out that they were so funny. If you look at them now, 50 years later, there’s a wonderful funniness about them because they’re so out of style. It’s such a different time and that part kind of intrigued me. I felt that if we really stuck to our guns and did a true 50’s movie within the style and within the technique and technology that was available to people at that time that we might also be able to come up with a movie that was funny, but not funny by trying to be funny, but funny because it adhered to a past era, so I took it on hoping it would work. I also liked the idea of going back to the 50’s because it was just a more innocent time. It was before people became cynical about life. It was before the quiz show scandals and all the other things that kinda turned the world a little darker, so I thought that it would be a nice little time trip.

Adam Bernard: You literally just took the words out of my mouth when you mentioned the innocence of the time. What are some of the other qualities of 50’s sci-fi that aren’t as prevalent today?
R.W. Goodwin: Well, you know it was a period where the vocabulary for sci-fi film was created and obviously on a much simpler and basic level, and because they did not have computers and other very sophisticated means of creating special effects or visual effects, the filmmaking itself kind of had a sweet naiveté to it, and I liked that. As a matter of fact, once we went forward I made a point to go through as many of those movies as I could and mine all those wonderful little nuggets of mistakes that go printed, or mismatches and things that they obviously did because of time or technical contingencies, and I just loaded the movie up with that and I think that gives it a certain kind of charm.

Adam Bernard: Did you avoid using the computer for this film?
R.W. Goodwin: We used it very judiciously, usually only in spots where you couldn’t tell, where it would be invisible. A lot of the driving stuff, in the old days they used rear projection where they would have the actors sitting in the car, the grips were shaking and jerking and the background was the plate of the road moving behind them. We just used green screen because it was quicker. We had a very short schedule on this because we didn’t have a ton of money to make it and all the money went into creating the period, all the costumes and sets, props and all the other things that had to be pretty much manufactured or found. The green screen helped us in that regard. We used the computer for trying to copy the kind of animation that they used to do. In the old days there were two ways of doing the space stuff, they would either use models or animation and we opted for the animation way to go because we simply couldn’t afford the time and cost of doing models. Eric Chauvin, our special effects supervisor tried very hard to make the images look as if they were animated from the 50’s. When we came to make the monster we knew we had to have a rubber monster. There was never any thought of doing a computer generated monster.

Adam Bernard: Allow me to be a fly on the wall at some of those production meetings. What were some of the discussions like regarding how alien the monster would be and what its qualities would be?
R.W. Goodwin: First of all, when I decided to get on board with Jim we had no script. We had a story outline that I liked quite a bit and we did a lot of modification on that and then spent over a year speaking with Steven Fisher getting the scripts. Steven had never written a script before, but he has a really good feel for dialogue and character. I worked very closely with him and Jim over that period of time and of course the monster kind of evolves in the writing process and then when we came to the producing of the film we added a whole bunch of other people, like the art department and the creature maker, and we included everybody else, like the cinematographer. I don’t think it’s any secret that the basic idea for the Ghota was derived from the creature in It Came From Outer Space, which is a one eyed creature that has since been copied by many people; The Simpsons, now Monsters vs. Aliens and everybody else. We then went to work with drawings and ultimately Joel Echallier, who was our creature maker, brought us over to see the full size model and it looked very much like a penis, a great big penis. I said “Joel, it looks like a great big penis with an eye in the middle of it,” and he said “I was afraid you were going to say that.” So we did some modification, I put those little feelers over the forehead. Of course Dan Lauria, who plays Chief Dawson, keeps telling everybody that it just looks like a French tickler, but we did our best to de-fallicize.

Adam Bernard: You mentioned Lauria, who most of us remember from The Wonder Years, but your entire cast is impressive. Did it surprise you that so many actors with such great resumes would be on board for a 50’s alien movie in 2009?
R.W. Goodwin: Yeah, and especially a low budget one, but we started at the top. Our casting director, Susan Edelman, gave us a list of wonderful actors for Ted. He was a two part character, Ted and when he’s inhabited by the alien Urp we call him Turp, and I really felt it was a long shot to get any of the amazingly famous and great actors she had on the list. Jim and I just decided to go with our top choice and work our way down and our top choice was Eric (McCormack). Susan knew Eric’s manager and got the script to her and she got it to Eric and Eric read it and instantly was right on board. He loved the script, he loved the character and he completely got what we were doing, that we weren’t doing a spoof or a parody, or some kind of comic knock off, we were doing a real 50’s movie that if we did it true to form would end up being funny because it was sort of an anachronism in this day and age. Robert Patrick I’ve known for five or six years, so with Robert it was just call and offer it to him and hope he’ll do it, and he did. Dan Lauria, the same thing. So we got the three names in there and were just wonderfully lucky and happy to find Jenni Baird, who was just great as Tammy, and Jodi Thompson, who plays Lana, the wife. She just nailed it. And the rest of the cast, I think they were all great. The teenagers, the old man, the cops, it was just a great group of actors.

Adam Bernard: Jenni Baird and Jodi Thompson were both on The 4400. Can we glean a little bit about your TiVo habits from this?
R.W. Goodwin: No, I’d never seen The 4400. After we cast it I noticed on their resumes that they had been on the same show together. And they’ve both had babies since we finished shooting.

Adam Bernard: Because of the movie?
R.W. Goodwin: I think so. I think they’re probably alien babies.

Adam Bernard: Speaking of TV, with the exception of the X-Files movie you’ve done TV your entire career. Do you have another TV program in the works?
R.W. Goodwin: Well, first of all, I produced a movie called Inside Moves that Dick Donner directed. That was in 1980. And a lot of people don’t know that I also worked on the first Star Trek feature. Gene Roddenberry brought me in on it after they had tried for years to come up with a features idea and couldn’t, so they were going to re-do it as a series again with the original cast and I came up with an idea for the first story which Gene liked and he asked me to develop it, which I did, and we went and pitched it and that became the first feature. I spent about a year building the Enterprise and casting the bald headed girl, Persis Khambatta, and then they finally got a director to come in, because it had switched over from TV to movies, and I was asked to change my credit, which I didn’t want to do, so I left. I never got any credit for anything because I was a dumb kid and I didn’t know that I should have asked for credit for the story and my agent, who was a great agent, a guy named Mark Rosenberg, quit agent-ing right at that moment to become the head of Warner Brothers Television, so I had no representation, I didn’t have anybody telling me what to do.

Adam Bernard: You were on your own and very young.
R.W. Goodwin: Yeah, but that’s OK, it doesn’t matter. I can’t complain about my career. I just developed and shot a pilot for a half hour cable comedy, it’s called The Cody Rivers Show. It’s a couple of guys who do incredibly funny sketch comedy and we brought in a few equally talented and funny people to join a regular cast. It mixes song and dance with comedy and all kinds of bizarre, funny things. I call it Monty Python meets Moulin Rouge in the 21st century.

Adam Bernard: Sounds like my kinda show. You also worked with one of my favorite actresses, Eliza Dushku, when you did Tru Calling. Why didn’t that show stick? A lot of people have blamed the network for that.
R.W. Goodwin: Here’s the thing, I was supposed to be on for two years. I did the first year and that’s when I really felt it was time for me to do my own stuff, I’d been putting it off for too long, so I left. I wasn’t there the second season, so I have absolutely no knowledge of what was going on over there. How is the new one doing? Dollhouse.

Adam Bernard: It’s a fantastic show. They have it in a terrible timeslot, though, Fridays at 9pm.
R.W. Goodwin: Well, yeah, but that’s where we were with The X-Files for the first year, so it’s not impossible.

Adam Bernard: Fox now has two hours sci-fi on Friday nights. It’s almost like they’re assuming that the people who’d be interested in it won’t have social lives.
R.W. Goodwin: I kinda got the feeling on The X-Files that they put us in there because I don’t think anybody had any high hopes for the show which was, in a way, good for us because at least as far as my point of view, producing it up in Vancouver I never really had too many suggestions or interference, they kind of let us do our own thing and by the time they actually started to pay attention we were getting good enough numbers that they didn’t want to mess with us, so for me it was a good experience.

Adam Bernard: I wish more television shows had that opportunity to grow.
R.W. Goodwin: That’s what you need. If you didn’t have that you wouldn’t have had Seinfeld and a lot of other big hit shows. It’s unfortunately really scary times and the economics of the television business have changed drastically so everybody’s trying to desperately trying to figure out what the new business model is.

Adam Bernard: Before I let you go, any final words on Alien Trespass?
R.W. Goodwin: Times have been so tough for everybody, so I think that the chance to take a couple of hours to escape to the past, to go back to a more innocent and sweeter world and have some fun and be able to laugh and get scared and get a little tear in your eye may be a good way to regenerate ourselves and realize that maybe life isn’t so bad and maybe we’ll all come through in the end.

Related Links

Website: alientrespass.com


posted by Adam Bernard @ 3:55 PM  
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